Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Knowing whether it is safe for dogs to drink soda is paramount, because, let's face it, we all would love it if dogs could enjoy the same things we eat and drink. But just because something is designed for humans doesn't automatically mean it's safe for dogs.
Actually, some types of soda can be even potentially life-threatening for dogs.
The most concerning ingredient to look for in particular is xylitol, but a soda's caffeine content can also be concerning.
While an accidental lick of a small drop of soda on the floor is unlikely to cause harm, taking several sips can be dangerous, points out veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec.
If your dog ingested several sips or you notice xylitol or caffeine listed in the list of ingredients, it's best to play it safe and consult with your vet at once or a Pet Poison Control helpline.
You can contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661. A consultation fee applies for both organizations, so have your credit card ready.
Be ready to provide information such as your dog's weight, the amount ingested, how long ago it was ingested and the soda's or soft drink's ingredient list.
Consider that xylitol is absorbed very quickly, so every second counts. If your dog is showing symptoms, take them to a veterinarian immediately.
In this article, Dr. Ivana Crnec, a practicing veterinarian graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia, will cover the following:
- What ingredients soda contains
- The main reasons why soda is bad for dogs
- The consequences of dogs drinking soda
- When it is time to call your trusted veterinarian
- What happens once at the vet’s office
- How to prevent your dog from ingesting soda in the future
What Ingredients Does Soda Contain?
Soda is a soft and tasty drink usually made of water, sweetener (artificial or natural), and flavoring (also artificial or natural).
Generally speaking, the sweetener can be regular sugar, artificial substitutes like xylitol or aspartame, fruit juice, or even high-fructose corn syrup.
Depending on the soda type and exact recipe, some drinks also contain caffeine, added colorants, and preservatives.
The ten most popular soft drinks or sodas are the following:
- Diet Coke
- Dr. Pepper
- Mountain Dew
- Diet Pepsi
- Coke Zero
- Diet Mountain Dew
Why Is Soda Bad for Dogs?
Soda is dangerous to dogs because it contains both toxic and hazardous ingredients.
The group of toxic components includes xylitol and caffeine, while the list of hazardous mainly refers to the high sugar content which can cause both short and long-term health problems.
Xylitol is a common ingredient found in some soda drinks. Xylitol is an artificial sweetener and sugar substitute in sodas originally labeled as sugar-free.
Xylitol is most frequently used in sports drinks and diet sodas as it contains 40 percent fewer calories than regular sugar.
However, the effects of xylitol in humans and dogs are not the same.
In dogs, xylitol stimulates the pancreas to release large amounts of insulin which result in a sudden and pronounced decrease in blood sugar levels (or hypoglycemia).
Usually, hypoglycemia occurs within 10 to 60 minutes of xylitol ingestion, and if left untreated, can have lethal consequences.
Dogs experiencing xylitol poisoning develop vomiting followed by telltale signs of low blood sugar levels—lethargy, disinterest, weakness, staggering, tremors, ataxia (lack of coordination), seizures, and collapse.
Xylitol poisoning in dogs is an extremely dangerous situation and sadly there is no specific antidote to reverse the situation.
Poisoned dogs require prompt and aggressive treatment that consists of intravenous fluids and symptomatic therapy.
The main goals would be to correct the blood sugar levels and protect the liver from long-term damage.
Some sodas contain caffeine. Namely, out of the ten most popular mentioned soft drinks, only two (Fanta and Sprite) are caffeine-free.
Sadly, dogs are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine and unlike humans can get poisoned.
Caffeine is a chemical from the group of methylxanthines. Caffeine has very potent stimulating features. These features affect the dog’s body and result in gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, neurological, and behavioral signs and symptoms.
Basically, dogs experiencing caffeine poisoning will show vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, increased water intake, increased urination frequency, pacing, vocalization, restlessness, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, tremors, seizures, and coma.
Caffeine poisoning in dogs is potentially life-threatening. The prognosis is generally good for dogs showing behavioral and gastrointestinal changes.
However, dogs presenting with heart, vascular, and neurological signs and symptoms are going through more severe poisoning and facing poor prognoses.
The treatment for caffeine poisoning in dogs depends on the severity of the case. Usually, it starts with decontamination which can include vomiting induction, activated charcoal, and gastric lavage.
Once decontamination is completed, vets focus on stabilizing the dog and counteracting the symptoms. This includes intravenous fluids and symptomatic treatment (anti-nausea meds, anticonvulsants, gastroprotectants, etc.).
In extremely severe cases, the dog may need to be intubated and sedated for as long as the toxicity signs are present.
Another sweetener commonly found in soft drinks is aspartame. Generally, aspartame is not toxic to dogs. However, it is likely to cause digestive upset.
Namely, one of the components of aspartame is phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is an amino acid and is essential for dogs. Phenylalanine is naturally found in meat, fish, milk, cheese, and eggs.
However, in large amounts, phenylalanine is irritating to the stomach and causes digestive troubles— usually vomiting, diarrhea, and temporary loss of appetite.
So, we mentioned that aspartame is not generally toxic. This is because phenylalanine can cause toxicity in dogs with phenylketonuria (PKU).
Phenylketonuria or simply PKU is a very rare genetic disorder in which the dog’s body is unable to properly process the amino acid phenylalanine.
As a result, the amino acid cannot be broken down and builds up in the body eventually reaching toxic levels.
High phenylalanine levels in the blood block other chemicals and nutrients from reaching the brain which leads to impaired brain development and cognition.
The Problem With High Sugar Levels
Even if the specific soda is free from xylitol and aspartame which are directly dangerous, the mere sugar level is still a problem. Namely, even if the sugar type is safe for dogs, its quantity is not.
The high-sugar levels in soda are troublesome for dogs and can cause several issues.
To get a better understanding of the potential hazards, we will review each consequence separately.
Just like children, dogs that eat too much sugar experience blood sugar spikes that result in energy surges and hyperactivity. Hyperactivity is not a health issue but it is abnormal behavior.
Hyperactive dogs are more than just a nuisance - they can easily injure themselves.
Plus, once the energy rush is over they will become lethargic in order to regain strength and get back to their normal selves.
2. Sugar Spikes and Dehydration
The mentioned blood sugar spike can be mild or severe. In more severe cases, high blood sugar levels or hyperglycemia are followed by sudden crashes.
The next phase would be dehydration. If left untreated, both altered blood sugar levels and dehydration can be life-threatening.
Long-term consumption of high-sugar drinks leads to weight gain and obesity. Although not a disease per se, obesity is hazardous as it increases the risk of several life-threatening conditions.
Namely, increased body weight and obesity increase the risk of diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
Obesity also affects the dog’s activity and has a negative impact on the overall quality of life.
Diabetes in dogs is a relatively common condition. Luckily, diabetes can be managed but it requires daily insulin injections and strict feeding regimens.
Diabetes in dogs is more likely in overweight dogs and regular high-sugar intake supports its development.
According to Blackwell's Five-Minute Veterinary Consult Clinical Companion Small Animal Toxicology, the lethal toxic dose of caffeine in dogs is 63-68 mg per pound (140-150 mg per kilogram).
What Should I Do if My Dog Drank Soda?
The consequences of your dog drinking soda depend largely on several factors – some related to the soda and others to the dog.
Soda-related factors include ingredients and amount of soft drink while dog-related factors are age, size, and overall health.
Based on these factors, the consequences can range from mild and self-limiting digestive upset to potentially life-threatening intoxication.
So, if your dog drank soda, it is imperative that you stay calm and assess the situation. By assessing the situation we mean trying to determine how much your dog drank and read the soda label to understand the ingredients.
If the consumed amount is substantial or the label features ingredients like xylitol or caffeine, you need to call your trusted vet immediately.
Based on the information you give, the vet will instruct you on what to do next.
Dogs and cats appear to be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than people. One or two licks of coffee, tea or soda is unlikely to cause poisoning in most pets.
— Pet Poison Helpline
How to Prevent a Dog From Drinking Soda
Luckily, preventing your dog from drinking soda is easy. Here are some simple and useful prevention tips:
- Keep soda bottles and cans out of your dog's reach
- Do not leave your soda unattended with your dog
- Dispose of soda properly (in outside or dog-proof bins)
- Clean soda spills immediately and without letting your dog lick.
All things considered, it is safe to assume that dogs must not be given soda. Sadly, this popular and refreshing soft drink is not safe for dogs as it contains several potentially toxic ingredients.
Even if they are present in safe amounts, soda's overall caloric and nutrient content is still questionable and can wreak havoc on the dog's sensitive digestive system.
The good news is that a few licks of soda are unlikely to cause adverse effects, especially in healthy adult dogs.
However, if your dog drank more than this or is already suffering from a medical condition, it is paramount to seek immediate veterinary attention.
Remember that soda drinks contain toxic ingredients and if left untreated, they can have fatal consequences. Stay calm, call the vet, and follow the instructions.
- American College of Veterinary Pharmacists, Caffeine Toxicity
- "Toxicology Brief" Sharon Gwaltney-Brant DVM, PhD, ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center
- Blackwell's Five-Minute Veterinary Consult Clinical Companion: Small Animal Toxicology. (2016). United Kingdom: Wiley.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Adrienne Farricelli